Friday, May 2, 2014


The Wrenegades! (photo courtesy of Sara Pike...she's on the right:)
Recently I went out with Tucson Audubon for their Birdathon, a fundraiser for Audubon.  The challenge?  To find as many birds as we could in a 24 hour time period.  And all I can say is, "Oh. My."

Night birding at Reid Park.  No pimps or murderers.....just sleeping ducks and Great Horned Owls
(Pic courtesy of Sara Pike)
I joined up with the Wrenegades and their captain Jennie MacFarland at 1 AM. As we drove through the busy streets of Tucson during clubbing hours, the team found themselves surrounded by young people in their big trucks and fancy cars.  The race was on!  The only difference? We were searching for birds and they were looking for human females. This was exciting! It was a rare opportunity to night bird with others in the darkness around our city parks.  Normally I wouldn't do this kind of thing alone, but because we were the Wrenegades, nothing would stop us....except maybe a cop.  Luckily that didn't happen.

The Evening Grosbeaks stole the show.  Unfortunately we saw them at dawn
 I love Arizona.  I really do.  But I miss walking during the calm cool nights of Wisconsin summers in the parks.  In my own Tucson neighborhood, there are prostitutes and drug dealers.  So it was exciting to walk the dark city parks looking for birds with the group.  And so we began in Reid Park.  It would be the first of 22 stops that we would make around Southern Arizona.

Me, standing in my shorts freezing my rear off
(Pic courtesy of Matt Griffis)
We needed each other to stay awake during our epic trek.  After Reid, we left for the desert oasis known as Agua Caliente Park.  The crew stood under the starry sky listening for owls, nightjars and more!  Once we heard the Elf Owl, Great Horned Owls, and Western Screech-Owl, we left for Mt. Lemmon!  There we picked up the Whiskered Screech-Owls, Northern Pygmy Owl and Flammulated Owl.

Jennie and Matt crunch their way out of the snow back into the warm car on Mt. Lemmon!
(Pic courtesy of Sara Pike)
As we went from the warm desert basin up into the canyons and mountain tops, we began to slowly freeze.  The roads turned into crunchy ice. And the wind sliced through our jackets and pants.  Of course, I wore shorts.  Yeah......

Corey, the youngest of our group, helps us add birds with her quick eyes!
(Pic courtesy of Sara Pike)
Our night turned into day and I began to feel my body groan from the lack of sleep.  There were moments I completely blanked out in the van.  One birding spot blurred into the next.  My photography was terrible on these outings.  The focus was birding and not photography.  I knew deep down that if a life bird came my way, I wouldn't have much time to document or wait for the bird to pose.  It just so happened that we'd find a lot of the specialty birds either too early in the morning or too far away for the camera to capture a decent image.  So I just snapped photos for ID purposes. We had to move.  There was no time to dilly dally around!

What's out there? A Wilson's Warbler?  Townsend's Warbler, Grace's Warbler? NO!  A Red-faced Warbler!
 Of course, my lifer, the Hermit Warbler, would pop out just as we had to leave!  Hey, this was a competition.  No time to sip tea and wait for the bird to get into focus!

A blurred photo of the Hermit Warbler
After Mt. Lemmon, we headed to Sweetwater in Tucson.  Then we headed south to Paton's House and Patagonia Lake.  After that trek, we went up to the Amado water treatment plant and Madera Canyon.  But wait!  There was still light!  So we had to go to Florida Canyon!  There we would pick up our last birds for the birdathon!

Rocks and people who love birds!
(Pic courtesy of Matt Griffis)
A whirlwind indeed!  Were we crazy?  Perhaps, but it also was an epic journey into the heart of Southern Arizona.  Tim was the master planner who had the data charts and statistics on each of our stops.

Tim, casual with a smile......and he has a plan! And so does that turkey on his right.
(Pic courtesy of Matt Griffis)
His organization allowed us to cover more area while following a specific route and time period.  Each place was timed and everyone was great about staying on schedule. This was an example of target birding at its best!  Jennie did a great job keeping everything together.  She knew her birds as did the entire team! Sara and Matt drove everywhere.  They were the happy pilots. Thanks guys for driving.  I know how tired you both were. Corey joined in on the fun.  She is a young lady who is a current student at my school.  If it hadn't been for her wonderful invitation, I would have missed out on this event. So thank you Corey from the bottom of my heart!  I hope you continue with the trails and birds after you graduate.  Birding will take you to some of the most amazing places on this planet.  After you graduate from high school (and finish your 4th year Spanish class), Central and South America await you.

Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet at Patagonia State Park
And me?  Well I took the photo id's and did the record keeping for all of our bird stops.  I like recording the data because it keeps me focused and centered. And on this day....awake.

Viewing a Northern Goshawk in flight above the ridge at Madera Canyon!
(Pic courtesy of Matt Griffis)
Overall, it was an epic day.  We found 160 birds in 24 hours!  And like the title suggests, the day was one big exciting blur. And so was my photography! The best part was that we had an amazing time working together for a really important organization. What a great group of people!  When I got home, I crashed.  Apparently, according to Pat, I was snoring and threw my poor cat off the bed in a rage.  Sleep deprivation can do that to a person:) The cat survived.

Western Tanager
I'd like to thank Sara Pike and Matt Griffis for their photo contributions to the blog today. I'm so glad you both remembered to snap photos of our epic trek.  There is still time to help out Tucson Audubon. Click on the donate button on the right and help us out.  Here is Sara Pike's webpage from the Wrenegades site. Until next time friends.......


  1. This sounds like an exciting fun time Chris. So many birds spotted in 24 hours is amazing!

  2. Crazy awesome company... I'm truly inspired... a lot of fun

    xoxo, Juliana | PJ’ Happies :) | PJ’ Ecoproject

  3. Wow---what a 24 hour period... I couldn't do that any longer --although I have been known to stay up ALL night --when I was much younger!!!!!ha

    Our youth at one of my churches had a few fund-raisers at times --which kept them awake all night. I remember that one was a Rockathon--where they had to rock in rocking chairs all night --making money for a mission project... There were others (like Danceathon, etc.)---and it was always a fun way to raise money for missions... BUT--my days of doing that are LONG OVER.


  4. I do envy you. I miss out as i couldn't bear walking with other people.

  5. What an amazing adventure! Staying awake would be a challenge, but it looks like everyone did well.

  6. What a great adventure Chris - an amazing 24 hours. Well done on all the species you saw and staying awake :)

  7. What a day! What an inspiration.

  8. Chris, what fun that must have been. I would never be able to stay awake..Congrats on the birdathon. Happy Birding!

  9. That was quite an adventure. Glad i got to tag along.

  10. Oh to be young again! I'd love to do something as wonderful is this, but these tired old bones won't allow it any more!

    A great post, Chris.

  11. Chris, this is even crazier than some of the treks you and I have gone on, though we came close on the trip to Boyce Thompson Arboretum and Roosevelt lake last year! Still, this sounds like exhausting fun! I am so glad you went and congrats on that Hermit Warbler!

  12. SO MUCH FUN! :-) Like a scavenger hunt! I just chuckled reading this, and imagining all you sleepy people when you finally made it home! Wow, you covered a lot of ground! :-)


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